There is a subtlety when it comes to eating intuitively. It requires attention and accountability in recognizing your motivations for eating combined with a basic understanding of portion control, what foods make you feel good, what foods make you feel bad, and your relationship to food as a whole.
The thing about intuitive eating is that essentially it is a style of eating that allows for flexibility and permission in regards to the time of day meals are taken as well as the type of food eaten. The ideology is that there is no such thing as a breakfast food, lunch food, snack food, or dinner food. In fact, there is no such thing as breakfast, snacks, lunch, or dinner in general.
When eating intuitively, you are in a constant relationship with your hunger cues and cravings, causing you to develop a way of eating that honors what you want to eat with accountability in regards to how you feel and why you are eating. This is what governs your food and eating choices.
Intuitive eating creates a new way of looking at our “cravings” and how they can be of service to us. For all intents and purposes, cravings are more like messengers that share information about our desires, and when eating intuitively we re-establish healthy beliefs around desire. This is of utmost importance as it provides insight into our needs.
Unmet needs and limiting beliefs are the number one cause of mindless snacking and anxiety eating. When we feel we are unworthy, not capable, or not enough, we seek to soothe these feelings with food because it feels scary to acknowledge the insecurity. This is often subconscious because the actual experience of feeling these emotions are sublimated before we even know what is happening. Essentially, food is how we have been conditioned to soothe ourselves.
The difference between anxiety eating and intuitive eating is the ability to shift from using food as a soothing mechanism to engaging with food from an empowered place of believing we are worthy of feeling good.
Intuitive eating requires you to follow three questions and hold yourself accountable to the answers every time you feel a hunger cue. Eating intuitively requires a constant check in with your direct experience, whereas mindless eating means you have cut yourself off from your direct experience.
Getting in touch with your hunger cues is the first step. It is important to feel the sensations of what being hungry actually feels like. When you can resource physical sensation in connection to eating, you can begin to develop a conversation with food. You can begin to discern whether the “hunger” you are feeling is physical or emotional. Physical hunger feels like stomach pangs and lightheadedness; emotional hunger can feel like urgency and dissociation.
Intuitive eating is applying accountable and compassionate strategies around physical and emotional eating. Asking yourself how you feel, what you want, and why you want it is a roadmap to learning a new way to relate to your emotions, teaching you that food may be sourced as a healthy and supportive form of comfort, rather than a mindless and potentially destructive form of soothing.
By asking yourself these simple questions, you will be in constant dialogue with your inner compass and will be on your way to establishing a healthy relationship to your diet, your needs, and your inner beliefs about yourself.
Alana Kessler MS RD is a holistic nutrition and wellness expert.